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Politics and Government

Chris Hansen chosen to fill seat of Colorado Sen. Lois Court, who resigned because of illness

Hansen is the 21st lawmaker in the current 100-member Colorado General Assembly to have entered a post at the Capitol at some point through the vacancy committee process. His successor will now also be picked by a vacancy committee.

State Rep. Chris Hansen is joined by his two sons, Ashwin, 10, left, and Sachin, 11, inside the House chamber just before the start of the first legislative day on Jan. 4, 2019. (Special to The Colorado Sun, Kathryn Scott)

State Rep. Chris Hansen was selected by a vacancy committee Thursday night to fill the seat of Sen. Lois Court, a Denver Democrat who resigned after being diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder.

Hansen, also a Denver Democrat, beat out four other candidates for the job. He was chosen after winning 95 votes out of 120.

In an interview, Hansen said he was honored by the overwhelming vote. He is expected to get sworn into his new post Tuesday, but it means he will have to relinquish his seat on the powerful Joint Budget Committee.

Hansen is the 21st lawmaker serving in the 100-member Colorado General Assembly this year to have entered a post at the Capitol at some point through the vacancy committee process rather than a vote in a primary or general election. He is also one of three lawmakers to be appointed to the legislature by vacancy committee in the past seven months alone.

Hansen’s replacement in the House also will be picked by vacancy committee. This means more than one-fifth of the House and Senate will have, at some point, received a vacancy appointment.

Court was not planning to seek reelection to the Senate in November and Hansen was already running for her seat. She was recently diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which causes paralysis, and has been hospitalized.

State Sen. Lois Court, a Denver Democrat, speaks to reporters as Colorado lawmakers unveil their proposal to eliminate the state’s TABOR cap on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Michael G. Sawaya, a prominent Denver attorney, briefly sought the vacancy appointment to Court’s seat. His candidacy lasted about two days before he says he realized members of the vacancy committee “have already made up their minds.”

Sawaya pledged not to seek reelection to the state Senate in November if chosen. He told The Colorado Sun his candidacy was aimed at trying to combat what he says are unfair aspects of the vacancy committee process, mainly in that it gives whomever is selected an incumbency advantage in the next regular election.

“When you give someone the incumbency because (several dozen) people happen to like somebody I think you have the most undemocratic way to run any democracy,” Sawaya said.

A Colorado Sun investigation in 2018 revealed that nearly one in four lawmakers serving during the legislative session that year had at some point been picked by a vacancy committee. That reporting led to statehouse conversations about potential changes to the system, but changes were not made.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says Colorado is just one of five U.S. states that fills vacancies by political party.

It’s not clear when Hansen’s replacement will be chosen.

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